ARTS & CULTURE | FITNESS | Skijoring and Ice Sailing: Outdoor winter fun in the Cariboo

Skijoring enthusiast Bianca Sheidt enjoys an afternoon in the snow with her dog, Tater. Photo: LeRae Haynes

 

By LeRae Haynes —

One gloriously unique winter activity in the Cariboo is skijoring. Dog lovers, nature enthusiasts, and outdoor adventurers can find fun and satisfaction in a fast-paced activity that combines cross-country skiing with taking your dog for a run.

Animal Care Hospital veterinarian Bianca Scheidt loves the sport. She has volunteered as a vet for dog sled racing, and it was while watching sled dogs in full race glory at the Dog Sled Mail Run race from Quesnel to Barkerville that she first saw skijoring.

Instantly intrigued, she started looking into it. “It’s cross country skiing with a dog running in front of you on a tight lead,” she says, adding that the dog is in a harness attached to your waist on a specific belt.

Once she learned to cross country ski, she tried skijoring with her own dog, Tater.      “I ended up asking my good friend Mona Penner if I could borrow one of her sled dogs. The first time was interesting: he was used to pulling but not so close to a person, and not a person on skis!

“It didn’t really matter what he was pulling, though—he loved it. It was so much fun.”

She explains that the average skijoring speed is about 15-20 km an hour, and that with a young, fast dog you can reach up to 25 km an hour.

“It is so great being outdoors doing something fun with your pet,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be with a sled dog: I’ve seen labs, setters, and German shepherds. Any medium to tall dog will work if you can train them. An energetic dog who wants to work is good for skijoring.”

With a domestic dog it’s easier to stop and start, and easier to pause for rest and water, says Scheidt. “Sled dogs are a little more challenging to control,” she adds. “One time I went out with two dogs when the snow surface was very icy, and the dogs went so fast. I fell and they dragged me for about a half mile, pulling and pulling. I had a hard time getting up—every time I released the leash a little bit they took off faster.

“I did finally get them to stop, but pulling is all they know.”

Scheidt participated in a fun race from Wells to Barkerville last winter. “The sun was shining and the whole thing was a wonderful experience,” she says. “It’s great to see different ages doing something so unique and fun in the snow with animals.”

I love the freedom, the challenge, and the companionship”

There are cross country ski dog trails at Hallis Lake in Quesnel and Bull Mountain in Williams Lake.

“I love being outdoors in the winter and skijoring is great,” says Scheidt. “I like that it’s not loud; it’s so quiet, peaceful, fun, and relaxing.”

Another unusual winter sport in Williams Lake is ice sailing. For at least 25 years there have been sailboats navigating the ice on Williams Lake. Currently there are three ice sailing enthusiasts regularly on the lake: Stu Fraleigh, Lorne Haines, and Rocco Catalano.

“Williams Lake has had ice boating and summer sailing, dating back to the 1930s,” said Stu Fraleigh, whose wife Barb Fraleigh is also an ice sailor. “I’ve enjoyed sailing since I was a kid, and it was David Black, another sailing enthusiast, who got me into it.”

Over the years 50-75 people have been introduced to the sport in Williams Lake, which features a boat with skates on the sides and the front. “There are people who really take to it and get very good very fast,” Fraleigh says. “The wind is everything: it’s your speed, how you turn, and how you stop. You’ve got to get to the point where you let the wind take it—you hold your course and you tack, or zig-zag, to get back. We have prevailing winds from the west or the east; when we take off we know where to go and set the sail accordingly.”

The average size of an ice sailing boat is 12 feet long with an 8-foot cross bar, says Fraleigh, who said it’s an open boat like a kayak. “The boat was designed in 1937, and the sport is big in places like Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the U.S. We mostly get them made from plywood and some hardwood, and master carpenter Lorne Haines helps us with repairs.”

He said safety precautions are definitely in place for the sport. “We use the ‘buddy system,’ have safety equipment on shore whenever we sail, wear helmets, proper clothing, and life vests, and carry things like rope and flashlights,” he says. “What’s most important is knowing and respecting the lake: knowing all the ice heaves, expansion tracks, rocks, thin ice, and open water.”

One thing the three ice sailors do is sail at top speed close together in a series of manoeuvers where they pass each other and cross directions. “I love the freedom, the challenge, and the companionship,” says Fraleigh. “The sport is fun for men and women and people of all ages, and I really like seeing people get excited about it.

“I have friends who go to Maui or Arizona when it’s cold, but I never go away in the winter,” he adds. “I love to sail. There are a lot of people here who love the winter outdoors here and won’t miss it for the world.”

He said that ice sailing makes you feel free. “You come in cold, but it’s worth it. When you get beautiful ice the boat goes quiet, fast, and smooth. It’s magic.”

 

For more information about ice sailing, including the opportunity to give it a try, phone Stu Fraleigh at (250) 392-5267, Lorne Haines at (250) 398-5807, or Rocco Catalano at (250) 392-6014.

LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, songwriter, co-producer of “Pursicles,” and the community co-ordinator for Success by 6. She is also the instigator of a lot of musical shenanigans in Williams Lake including “Borderband” with kids and is a member of the “Perfect Match” dance band.

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